They swept the rope of magic through the trees in search of the Black Magic bird, but the shiver never came.
“Where is it?” Keena asked nervously.
They swept through the forest five more times, but turned up nothing. This can’t be good.
“This is damn powerful magic,” Ninyo noted.
“Where to now?” one of the other members asked.
“That I don’t know,” Ninyo answered helplessly.
“Well of course you can’t sense it,” the redhead scorned, “It’s not in the baby anymore so it can hide itself.”
“Thank you so much for stating the obvious. Now if you would like to actually help out that would be even better.”
No matter how many times they tried and how many people crowded around the stone, there was no indication as to the location of the Black Magic. It was definitely out there somewhere, but its locality was hidden.
“We’re not giving up.” Keena was determined.
“But if we can’t even find it, how are we supposed to attack it?” the redhead protested.
“I don’t know, get it to come here or something. I repeat; we’re not-woah…” A feeling of dizziness swept through her, and she held the person next to her with one hand, her head with the other. As suddenly as it had come, the dizziness drifted away.
“Am I the only one who felt that?” she asked, blinking.
“Nuh, I got it too.”
Keena scanned the horizon carefully. Up the beach a fair distance, she thought she could make out a shadow against the white sand.
“It’s coming,” she said, “Get ready people!” She beaconed the other members of her group together and breathed deeply, facing her palms towards the shadow, which was now close enough to be able to make out its shape.
The Black Magic took the same bird form as it had two moons ago, only bigger. Keena’s mouth opened slightly as it drew closer. Its strength wasn’t only shown in its visibility.
“It’s solid,” she murmured in disbelief. How strong was this stuff?
On the back of the bird rode two people who she couldn’t make out the forms of. One was almost sure to be Qillan, but the other person she had no idea as to their identity.
“Ready,” she said, “NOW!”
Nine beams of twisting coloured magic spiralled up at the approaching bird, hitting it square in the chest and knocking it back a bit. It screeched another silent cry, making Keena’s magic shiver from the sound only it could hear. Then it swooped, its pitch black talons spread.
Most of them were ready for it, but Keena could see in her mind’s eye that not everyone had escaped. Please don’t be Ninyo, she begged silently, biting her lip.
“AGAIN!” she screamed, springing back to her feet and striking again at the bird, then she got an idea. “Kai,” she said to the girl with telekinesis, “Do you think you’d be able to get those two people off the bird’s back?”
“I’ll try,” the girl answered.
Keena watched as her rope of magic slid out of the protective shield of Healing Magic and thrashed hard at the two people riding on the back of the Black Magic. They were unbalanced slightly, but didn’t fall. Again she whipped at the figures, and a third time.
The bird screeched again and swooped a second time, though this time everyone was ready for the attack and managed to dodge the deadly black claws. The Black Magic wheeled around over the ocean, still being struck by the shimmering rivers of magic from the group on the beach, and still the line of Pearl Magic whipped at the two people being carried on its back.
Kai screamed out ferociously, and pushed with her whole body to dislodge them, finally achieving her goal. Keena could see the couple struggle to stay aloft, but once they had slipped enough, they dropped off the bird’s back and into the ocean. The bird let out another soundless shriek, but didn’t try to rescue its fallen passengers. Instead it flapped once and swooped at the group for a third time.
“Trap it!” Keena yelled, “Wrap it up with your magic!” She extended her own vine of magic, wrapping it tightly around the bird’s neck, hoping this would at least slow its flight, if not stop it altogether. It wasn’t long before the other members of the group caught on, and soon the bird was struggling to stay above the waves. Keena squeezed harder, and finally the bird came crashing down into the sand, screaming and flailing wildly against the magical binds that held it down.
“Now, anyone with aggressive magic, attack it!”
As several of the ropes delved inside the bird rather than holding it firmly in the sand, one of its wings was more free to move, and it swept it around blindly, knocking back a whole group. Keena bit her lip again but didn’t let go. “It’s okay people, we can do this! Give it everything you’ve got!”
She threw out more Green Magic than she thought she had, filtering it through every pore in the bird’s body. In time, the bird stopped struggling and fell still, but Keena wouldn’t be satisfied until it was well and truly gone. For all she knew it could just be playing dead so they would all think it was defeated, then attack again soon after. It seemed like it was working too.
“It’s not gone yet!” she shouted, “Don’t let up until it’s really dead! One last push, ready, NOW!”
The bird screeched again with the force and whipped out again with its wing, but the magic was too strong for it. After a final screech that Keena almost felt she could hear, the inevitable white explosion took its place, throwing Keena back hard into a tree, but she had been knocked out before she even hit it.
When she awoke, Keena was throbbing all over. The sun on her closed eyelids was pain enough without any extra washing over her like a wave. She tried to groan, but her throat was so parched all she could manage was a rough gasp, soon followed by a series of dry coughs. She noticed vaguely that she was lying on a tree root, and rolled agonisingly off of it, feeling for the first time her badly bruised ribs, a result of her short flight into the tree she now lay under. She didn’t know it, but one of them had cracked from the impact.
New waves of pain washed over her, and she gasped and held her ribs, but, finding this only worsened her condition, lay flat on her back in the sand, taking slow but painful breaths, a pained expression on her face. I am really not liking this, she thought, where are the healers?
For long minutes she lay panting painfully under the tree, then eventually brought it on herself to sit up. The pain had migrated from all four limbs and was now centralised on her ribs, and to a lesser extent her head. When she tried to sit up, she cried out as the pain stabbed her from inside her chest, but resisted holding the offending area. She bit her lip again, trying hopelessly to hold back the pain, then blinked her eyes open, shading them with one hand against the unusually bright sun.
The scene before her eyes made her feel suddenly guilty about her previous plea for the healers. The beach was littered with injured people, and the healers were doing their best to attend to those they thought were most badly hurt.
Ninyo. Her heart skipped a beat and she frantically searched the beach for him. He lay unmoving on the shoreline, the waves wrapping around his body before trickling back into the ocean. A healer was soon at his side, and within a few seconds he sat up slowly and rubbed his head, thanking the healer.
Keena fell back into the sand with relief, but gasped at the pain it caused her. She clenched her eyes and teeth tight, trying to take attention away from the affected area. Slowly, she became aware of a cool, fresh feeling in her ribs, and she relaxed her face and opened her eyes, breathing deeply.
“Thanks Kayil,” she breathed.
He smiled. “‘Swhat I’m here for.” He grinned again, then stood up to lend his magic to others. Keena rubbed her now completely healed ribs. No matter how many times she saw it, Healing Magic still managed to mystify her.
“You okay?” Ninyo dropped down beside her, his face worried.
Keena grinned and nodded. “I’m fine,” she said, “You?”
“I’m good, yeah. Got my magic back, so, yeah, can’t complain.”
Keena’s grin broadened and her ears pricked up. “Are you serious?”
“Well, I’ll never be able to actually see it, but it’s got its energy back again.”
Keena squealed and threw herself on him. “Aren’t you glad you did it now?”
Ninyo laughed. “Oh yeah,” he said heartily.
“Have you got any idea what happened? Back at the human… village… place… thing, I mean.”
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t have the faintest, but I have a funny feeling we’ve just killed the root of it all.” He took the black jewel’s pouch, still hanging around Keena’s neck and tipped the stone onto the sand. Hesitantly, he touched it, then quickly took his fingers away, but picked the stone up, as though he was testing hot coals. He tossed it in the air and caught it again. “Well and truly gone,” he said, staring at the jewel lying in his palm.
Keena picked it up and let it rest in her own hand, shaking her head in amazement. “Think you’re right,” she said slowly.
Iis knelt beside them. “Hi,” she said simply.
“What’s wrong?” Keena asked, then caught sight of her jewels. Her shoulders slumped and she took the younger girl in her arms. “Oh Iis, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be, you didn’t do anything. I’ll be fine,” Iis reassured her, but there was pain in her voice. “Any idea what happened to Qillan and that other guy?” she asked, changing the subject.
“Totally forgot about them,” Keena answered, taking her arms away and looking the beach up and down. “Shouldn’t they have swum back to shore?”
“Should think so, but they aren’t here.”
Keena frowned. “They must still be out in the water,” she said. “Need to get one of the shape-shifter guys to go out there as a dolphin or something.”
Iis’ ears perked up. “I’ll get one of them,” she said, eager to make herself useful. She stood up and brushed off her skirt, then walked off up the beach and approached the man who had two Monsoons ago posed as Ninyo. He nodded when Iis explained the situation, then dove into the waves, changing his shape in mid flight.
Keena blinked after him. “That’s just weird,” she said bluntly.
Ninyo shrugged. “If it suits him, he can go for it,” he replied. “Who d’you reckon the other guy is?”
“Would not have the faintest. Guess we’ll find out soon though.” She got to her feet and dusted the sand from her legs and back. “Coming?”
“May as well.”
The group was soon gathered at the water’s edge, waiting anxiously for the shape shifter to return with the two people Kai had knocked off the bird’s back. There were various mumblings about who the second person would be. Everyone knew about Qillan, even though half of them had never seen her before, but as far as they knew, the only other person who had ever had Black Magic was Miliko, and he was barely a Monsoon old.
Keena suddenly spotted something in the waves. The shape shifter was powering back through the turquoise-blue water, the two people gripping on tightly to his dorsal fin. As he glided in, he changed back into cat-person form and slid out from under them, dragging Qillan up the beach by her arms. Two more people had grabbed the boy and lay him in the sand further up.
He sat in the sand, choking out thanks as he coughed up salt water. By his size, he looked to be about ten Monsoons old, and his rich black hair shone wet in the sun. Two black jewels stuck like gaping holes in his right cheek. Even though no magic was left in them, there was still no sparkle in the black stones.
Keena knelt and slapped him on the back a couple of times to help him get the sea water out of his lungs. “You okay?” she asked.
The boy looked up at her with black eyes and smiled. Keena caught something strangely familiar in his face, but she knew she’d never seen the boy before. “I’ll be right,” he wheezed, then broke into another coughing fit. “Thanks Mum,” he wheezed again.
Keena blinked several times, not sure if she’d heard right. “Mum?” she repeated.
The boy nodded. “I’m Miliko,” he explained.
“Right…” Keena said slowly. “Sorry to break it to you, but Miliko’s only a Monsoon old.”
The boy spread his arms out. “Well, here I am,” he said cheerfully, “And no, I don’t know what happened, apart from that I grew up real quick.” He smiled again, and Keena saw the same familiarity in him she had seen before.
“You’re not joking,” she whispered.
“Nup,” Miliko confirmed, shaking his head and sending wet strands of hair flying. “Where’s Dad?”
“Behind you,” Ninyo answered.
Miliko spun around and jumped up into his father’s arms, successfully knocking him over.
Ninyo laughed. “Hate to say it, but you’ve grown since we last saw you.”
“Nah, really?” Miliko joked. “So when do I get my sword?”
Keena fell back into the sand and held a hand to her brow. She wasn’t sure it was so good that he’d grown up so quickly. “Traditionally not until you’re three,” she answered, “and technically you’re only one.”
“Could you make an exception? Pleeeeease?” he begged, bouncing up and down on Ninyo’s chest.
“Not this again,” Ninyo muttered, pushing the boy off his chest. “We’ll think about it,” he answered finally, “Need to get used to the idea of you being… older first.”
“Here here,” Keena agreed, giving a thumbs up from her position in the sand. “Everyone else can go to their various dwellings if they want,” she told the rest of the group, and waved her hand in the general direction of the rainforest. “Green Group is disbanded due to lack of stuff to do.” She grinned and began giggling, then broke into a laugh and knocked Ninyo back into the sand.